The Spatial Turn
Edward Soja and Henri Lefebvre
By Tugrul Keskin
Portland State University
The modern understanding of ‘urbanization’ began with the industrialization process in England and later flourished all over Europe at the end of the 18th century as a result of capitalism. Consequently, the city or the metropolis cannot be separated from the capitalist mode of production. This new economic condition and process also changed and shaped social and political conditions, which has resulted modernization, individualism and the most importantly – because of the class subject – space. The term space has a very different meaning in modern societies than it does to primitive and traditional societies, because space as a new modern political and social geography has culminated in the 19 and 20th century political, social and economic life; and has tried to eliminate traditional ways of life. Concepts such as colonialism, the nation-state, metropolis, territorialization, urban life, individualism, suburbs, downtowns, ghettos, and stateless nations (for example the Kurds, Uyghurs and Tamils) are related with space. Malls too, are less or more related with space or the concept of spatial. We can expand the list from politics to individual life as George Simmel attempted to do in his analysis of the late 19 and early 20th century Germany as a comparison between city life and the individual; Simmel tried to understand how these two concepts related to each other and affected one another within the modern way of life as a new urban phenomenon.
According to Simmel, the metropolis freed man from his taboos or dogmas, which are rooted in tradition, and religion that connected men to community-based life. However, Simmel also argues that man’s freedom and individuality does not really mean that man is really free, but that he is instead more dependent on others. Classical theorists, such as Marx, Weber and Durkheim, all see urbanization as a product of the industrialization that created a more complex societal structure and way of life.
As capitalism has regulated every part of human life in order to create its mode of production through cities, it has also attempted to control social and cultural structures and mentalities from the individual level to that of the societal. In this context, museums, zoos, theaters, entertainment centers and many other structures have also been created as a new space. In the industrialization process, examples of sacred spaces that were created included churches and cemeteries.
In modern times, the 20th century space was treated as death, fixed, the undialectical and the immobile; however, space shouldn’t be reviewed in the context of a static concept, it changes over time and geography. For example, public and private spaces show us that the concept rapidly changes even from the personal level to the societal level. One of the most important observations might be found in the construction of human geographies, the social production of space and the restless formation and reformation of geographical landscape in the metropolis. In Muslim populated societies, space have also been produced and reproduced in the context of the relation between Islam and capitalism, such as Islamic versus secular space - Istanbul versus Ankara (Turkey), Riyadh versus Mecca (Saudi Arabia), Tehran versus Qum (Iran) or newly capitalist cities have been also created like Dubai, or the old versus the new Cairo, and has reformed itself and stays between the secular and religious as a chaotic space. Hence, space also can be seen as the geography of social and political resistance. In this context, There are Mosques in Istanbul, Turkey and some of them are 400 or 300 years old, neighborhood around these mosques are actually a space that Islamic groups and movements or Islamic orders called Tariqahs have used the space for political mobilization following the secularization process in Turkey. This has been a space for resistance. Political groups have tried to control space in order claim their hegemony. On the other hand, secularists use non-Mosque neighborhoods in order to separate themselves from other neighborhoods. This reminds me of Lefebvre’s understanding of space, in which space is a part of domination and control. Groups or individuals try to control space and form, and reform the concept of spatiality in order to have more power. In this context, space is understood as power; therefore, space is an ongoing process of the reformation of power. Resistance can be seen as external space as Foucault argues, because this is a socially – as well as politically-produced space. However, in the case of museums, space exercises its power through time.
Another example of Lefebvre’s approach can be found in examining HG TV. This TV channel is dedicated to TV shows for home renovations and personal space. This reminds me of hegemony and power of personal space through renovations. This seems to be a reflection of the inability of an individual to exercise his or her power outside and the absence of control over social space, but their homes become their resistance against external space.
In short, space or the metropolis is part of the historical geography of capitalism in which power is employed through the new spatiality of capitalism. Personally, I have read Lefebvre’s book on the Sociology of Marx and I found it very interesting that he is a Marxist, yet is not as rigid as Althusser, and not as light as Foucault. On the other hand, Soja’s view of the spatial, and modern cities cannot be applied to any other parts of world but Los Angeles.